English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I'm having trouble understanding this paragraph, mostly the part in bold. Is it regular grammar?

This is a piece from Moby Dick:

If I had been downright honest with myself, I would have seen very plainly in my heart that I did but half fancy being committed this way to so long a voyage, without once laying my eyes on the man who was to be the absolute dictator of it, so soon as the ship sailed out upon the open sea."

share|improve this question
up vote 4 down vote accepted

"Fancy" means to like it - "but half fancy" means to not like it much at all. So he is saying that he did not admit to himself that he did not want to commit to the voyage before seeing the Captain.

share|improve this answer
Is it correct that the "I did but" construct = "I only, merely"? – ftkg Feb 11 '14 at 0:57
close, but I think "I did not" is closer. I think the closer to 'not fancy at all' you get, the better for this sentence. He clearly seems to be making a point of his bad decision! – Oldcat Feb 11 '14 at 1:01
I think "I only, merely" is much closer to the meaning of "I did but" in general (see e.g. uses in the King James Bible). In this case, however, it is perhaps being used as an understatement: by saying that he only half-fancied it, he is saying that he didn't actually fancy it. – Niel de Beaudrap Feb 11 '14 at 2:53

As was mentioned by Oldcat, "half fancy" means to not be excited about traveling. replace half with hardly and it makes a little more (modern) sense.

share|improve this answer

It means he wasn't very keen on doing it. He wasn't too enthusiastic about committing himself to such a long journey.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.